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Man thought in vegetative state manages to communicate

A brain-damaged man previously thought incapable of cognitive thought has managed to convey that he’s not in pain, thanks to a technique developed by a neuroscientist.

An ABC News report details the case of Scott Routley, a 39-year-old man who suffered brain injury after a car accident 12 years ago. Since then, Routley has been unable to speak or move, even to follow objects with his eyes.

Doctors had previously thought him to be in a vegetative state — characteristic of patients who are not in comas, yet are unaware of themselves or their surroundings.

The ABC News story says neuroscientist Adrian Owen managed to establish that Routley is aware of the world around him, after working out a signal system. Owen’s technique makes use of a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, or fMRI, to scan the brains of patients believed to be in a vegetative state.

He will tell patients to imagine walking through their homes. He will then tell them to imagine playing tennis.

If the patients are mentally capable of understanding the instructions and performing the task, different parts of the brain will light up on the fMRI depending on which scenario they’re thinking of. Owen then instructed Routley to think about tennis in order to signal “no,” and received that response after asking him whether he was in pain.

The report says Owen has met with Routley on subsequent occasions, and the results of those sessions will soon be published in a medical journal.

If you or a loved one have suffered a traumatic brain injury, check with Lopez McHugh for a free consultation to see what your legal options are.

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